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Charter Teacher, Parent Asks Voters to Support Charter Amendment

Pataula Charter Academy in Edison serves five southern Georgia counties.

Dear Editor,

I am writing as both a parent of students who attend a charter school and a teacher who works at one. The school I speak of is Pataula Charter Academy (PCA) located in Edison, Georgia. This is one of the controversial schools that was created by approval of a state commissioned board rather than the local school boards. Now we are in danger of having our doors closed unless an amendment to the constitution is approved in the November election stating that it is legal for a state commissioned board to approve charter schools when local boards refuse.

I am urging everyone reading this to please vote yes to this amendment. PCA serves students in five counties. All five of the local school boards of the counties that we serve denied our application for approval when we asked to form a charter school, thus forcing us to go to the state commissioned board.

Prior to the creation of PCA, parents in our area had very few choices for their children’s education. One option was to send their children to sub-par public schools which were consistently on the needs improvement list due to the fact that they were not making adequate yearly progress as determined by the state. The other option was to send them to a private school which might not even be an option due to financial limitations or race.

PCA is a public school open to children of all races and economic status in five counties in our area. Since it is public, of course it is free. All of the parents who choose to send their children to PCA care about education and are actively involved in their children’s school life.

Perhaps the best thing about our school is that ALL children are made to feel loved, accepted, and proud. Many students at PCA have attended three or four schools prior to ending up here. They have not been successful anywhere else, and have previously hated school.

Now, they love it! They came to our school very behind academically and with very low self-esteem. However, through nurturing, patience, and the fostering of a school culture based on tolerance, these students are thriving. That is what touches my heart the most about PCA.

Students come here from all walks of life. Children who have been bullied in their other schools now feel safe. Kids who have been the bullies in their others school have learned to be civil. This is due to the fact that our school focuses on school culture as much as academics. As a result, all students feel accepted. Once you have a good culture, learning can take place. Perhaps this is why our test scores were so high last spring!

If the amendment to the constitution does not pass, then all of these children will no longer have this school as an option.

Please hear me. This is not about money or anything else the opposition may want you to believe. This amendment is simply about these precious children. Please come visit our school if you would like. I have been teaching for twenty years in four states, and I have never had the pleasure of working in an environment like this.

When you vote on November 6, please vote with your heart. Vote yes for amendment one. You will be blessing our children!

Kathy Bantz
Teacher and Parent
Cuthbert, GA

ASHJAY October 14, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Thank you for sharing your story Kathy. I'm so happy your children are succeeding in school! Thank you also for taking on one of the hardest (yet rewarding) jobs teaching our children. I, too, am a parent of a charter student that will lose our very successful school if the amendment does not pass. My hope and prayers go out to the children in Ga that truly need these options. One size fits all cannot work for everyone.
Cheryl weathersby October 14, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Thank you kathy for sharing how we all few at PCA and the truth be told .... We are so lucky to have you and all of our teachers
MICHELE PIERCE(POSTED PROUDLY) October 15, 2012 at 04:30 AM
Thank you Kathy for sharing your story. As a parent of a special needs child who also attends a charter school that was denied its funding by the local school board. I can say the education and LOVE she has received at this school would not happen in her regular districted school. She has made friends and has started to excel in all aspects of her educational and personal life. Charter schools are all over the state of Georgia and the myths and untruths being reported are astounding. Even the little question parents will ask "how much does it cost?". Its a public school.But truthfully our charter schools usually educate our kids for much less than the regular public school in our area. Way less and they get the job done. But in your area its more than cost for these students, its a necessity in order to receive the best education they deserve and a Charter School is the best option. I also get asked about special education because they believe public charter schools do not accept special needs children. WRONG! They are a public school and required to do so and receive special funding for Special Education. They are able to education differently and create ways to help these students achieve and excel. So I will also please add vote Yes for Amendment one, because if my chidlren school closing one it would be devastating and two my special needs daughter will regress and not have the friendships she has made at her school that enable to her to be productive and happy.
Paula M October 15, 2012 at 02:50 PM
Kathy, thank you for explaining this issue with simplicity, clarity and compassion. My cousin's children attend a charter school in Calif. ( www.westerncenteracademy.com ). It offers so much more. We sent them to Catholic school the first five years and now they are in charter school hopefully until they graduate. I will be voting yes on the amendment.
Kids First October 15, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Great letter Kathy. We have so many excellent teachers in Georgia. I expect to see several step forward after the amendment is passed to start schools of their own. I can't wait to see the positive changes heading towards Georgia!!!!
Elizabeth Hooper October 15, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Hi Kathy, I was wondering why you think your school will be shut down if Amendment 1 doesn't pass? It wasn't shut down when the supreme court ruled to disband the Charter Commission in 2011 - why would it be shut down now? These are important legal questions for voters to understand. I believe your school is now a state charter school - the State BOE holds the charter and the school receives funding from the state. This amount was revised upward in July, 2012. If there is a pending lawsuit challenging the State BOES's authority to authorize charter schools which was established in 1998, I haven't heard of one. Please let us know. Thanks.
Elizabeth Hooper October 15, 2012 at 05:09 PM
Dear All, No charter schools will be shut down if Amendment 1 fails to pass. Former commission schools in Georgia are now State Chartered Special Schools. Pataula Academy's charter is up for renewal on June 30th 2013. The State BOE's authority was not challenged by the supreme court. It was granted in the Charter Law of 1998 and remains intact. Please check your facts - I just got this info from the charter schools division of the State BOE. It is accurate.
Kids First October 15, 2012 at 05:17 PM
If the charter amendment doesn't pass, 797 will be challenged. Once again these exemplary schools will be stuck in another legal battle and if overturned, back down to total funding less than 50% of the non-charter public schools which is obviously not sustainable. Why are opponents so against the amendment if they say it's the same thing as going to the state BOE today? The reason is because they will challenge the funding mechanism in 797 (one opponent has already said this is step 2). The amendment needs to pass so parents can have options all over Georgia.
Dana Teegardin October 15, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Please do your homework before supporting this Amendment. My son attended a charter school and I am a charter school advocate. However, this legislation does not address the current real-world problems I faced at a charter school in Alpharetta. Serious problems, that the local and state boards could not have anticipated. The key element that is missing in the legislation? Parents. The legislation does not require parents to sit on the governing board of the charter school. And we know a political committee not parents will have the decision making power. The problems in Alpharetta are ongoing. It is one thing for legislators to look the other way and say "it's not my job" to help with a charter school gone wrong....but to knowingly craft weak legislation that will allow charter groups to take advantage of our tax dollars and children is irresponsible. Read the New York Times Story about the issues Jan ignored and that the local school board was willing to deal with directly. (See New York Times Article Written About Fulton Science Academy http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/us/audits-for-3-georgia-charter-schools-tied-to-gulen-movement.html?_r=0) As a parent, I am still stunned that a legislator could have such a callous disregard for taxpayers, parents and kids. Please keep your voice on education local and vote No. For more information: www.georgiacharteschooldisgrace.com
MP October 15, 2012 at 08:34 PM
@ Elizabeth Hooper - It is so interesting you bring up what will happen if the amendment does NOT pass. Did you know... Opposition is presenting (I know, I have the slideshow) that when the amendment is defeated, then they will seek to rescind 797. What will this do? Well, it will remove the funding for the state chartered special schools for one thing, which will mean they will no longer get a supplement and will be operating on about $3500 per pupil...which means they will be starved to death and no able to operate...which means they will have to close. The goal of the districts is not simply to stop this Commission, but to remove ANY appeals process for charter schools so that they can, in effect, be stopped. I always wondered why the opposition's logo states Vote No to State Controlled Schools and never mentioned the SBOE process. I further wondered why they are bothering to fuss about the amendment rather than just working to get 797 changed...having seen their presented plan, now it is evident. They are trying to close off ALL options for locally denied petitions.
Holley October 15, 2012 at 08:38 PM
We understand that we will not immediately be shut down if the amendment does not pass. However, we also understand that a lawsuit will certainly be forthcomingm given the Supreme Court's assertation that local school boards have "exclusive authority" over educating students. If that upholds we will certianly be shut down. We want stability and certaintly, since our existence for three years has been anything but!
MP October 15, 2012 at 08:42 PM
@ Charter Amendment - With all due respect, you are incorrect on two points. Jan Jones did NOT ignore the issue. Please review lines 186-235 from HB 797. I am in disagreement with you about FSA, but that is irrelevant, as they are not part of the Commission discussion. The point is that protections are in the law. As for parents being involved, if you go to the State Board Rules on Charter Petition Requirements, you will see that there is a question there that requires the petitioners to respond to how parents will be substantially involved in governance for the school. To be frank, we used to require that a majority of parents serve on the board, but the problem was that we ended up with some boards with very little capacity because rather than addressing skill sets, they were looking to just find a parent. Schools must find individuals with broad experiences - often these can be parents, but they also may be community members. The important thing is that parents have a substantial voice in governance.
Holley October 15, 2012 at 08:46 PM
Thank you Michelle Pierce for your comments. We hear all the time that we do not offer meal programs or transportation, that we cherry pick and do not offer special education. We DO offer meal programs and are over 60% free and reduced. We DO offer transportation. We DO have children with special needs and we serve them well!!!
MP October 15, 2012 at 08:49 PM
@ Elizabeth Hooper - I am still awaiting a reply from you on this question.... The opposition's argument is that state controlled schools (specifically, Commission schools): 1. Cost more money to oversee 2. Are "siphoning money" from the district 3. Erode local control. The commission and state board are both appointed by elected officials, and the the appeals process and funding in place is exactly the same for the Commission and the SBOE process. Since they are EXACTLY the same under 797, why is the current process not being challenged?
Holley October 15, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Charter Amendment, The Amendment has nothing to do with whether or not the Boards of charter schools have parents on them. It only asserts the state's right to approve charter schools. We can work on stronger legislation later to ensure that the charter school Boards represent what we want them to represent, but we won't have that oportunity if the Amendment doesn't pass. If the amendment doesn't pass then the growth of charter schools is going to fizzle and die, much less any legislation to strengthen them. Please reconsider and think of the schools like the one in this article. The Board IS made up of parents, and they are desperate for certaintly that the school that is being successful for their kids remains open for the long haul.
Holley October 15, 2012 at 08:59 PM
These are locally approved schools. Furthermore, they were denied by the state when they tried to get state status. So, I am not seeing the connection between this and the amendment.
MP October 16, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Hellloooooo..... Oh Ms. Hoooooper. Awaiting your reply.
MICHELE PIERCE(POSTED PROUDLY) October 16, 2012 at 03:19 AM
Holly you are welcome!!!! I keep hearing the cherry pick comment too. I remember going into the school the first time not sure, thinking it was a.private school where they did not have to accept SN kids. WRONG. They offer free and reduced lunches, my girls qualify for free lunch as well.
Elizabeth Hooper October 16, 2012 at 06:06 PM
They are not exactly the same - don't leave out the part about a petitioner declaring the school to have a state-wide attendance zone which allows it to completely bypass a local board. I thought we wanted to be like Florida? That doesn't happen in Florida. So why do we need an extra appointed commission MP - why do we need schools with a state-wide attendance zone. The supreme court ruled that bypassing a local board was unconstitutional. Charter school operators want a faster track, they want constitutional certainty that their game plan and investment in Georgia won't be challenged in court. Not my problem. About the money - no one is talking about it. You think we don't know that a plan has already been worked out. I find it offensive that the voters aren't deemed to be important enough to be let in on the big secret.
Elizabeth Hooper October 16, 2012 at 06:12 PM
Holley, Then why lie in the preamble about "improving parental involvement" if the Amendment has nothing to do with Boards having parents on them? We can fix it later? That doesn't even make sense - it could have been fixed in about 15 minutes by looking at Minnesota's law. The law is a joke.
Elizabeth Hooper October 16, 2012 at 06:14 PM
MP - I answered you above - believe it or not, I don't spend all my time checking in on the blog!
R Thomas October 17, 2012 at 09:33 AM
Charter Schools are not going to be closed down. Most Georgians are for school choice, but not an amendment to the Georgia Constitution taking away local control. REMEMBER: Whatever public education complies with Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, Common Core, 2013-'14 all public schools in Georgia MUST use outcome-based education (OBE), which keeps all students at the level of learning attainable by the slowest learner. Meaning, while no child is left behind, no child is allowed to plunge ahead, either ... except for the 20-25 percent SOMEONE chooses to be better educated. Is this the reason for such a push for Charter Schools. The cream of the crop will be educated there. Whose child will be chosen? Nowhere in the data I've found is superior education produced by charter schools, although HOME-SCHOOLED students consistently test better WITHOUT the "socialization" and OBE required in public schools. Remember, charter schools ARE public schools. The difference is they have authorization to WAIVE all state and local control to operate under a contract, but they CANNOT waive federal mandates and control. Yes, they must use OBE, but it's now mandated in Georgia as "performance-based" education, which is OBE re-named. http://www.georgiainsight.org/archives/August%202012.pdf
R Thomas October 17, 2012 at 09:46 AM
Ashjay, As Elizabeth Hooper states there will be NO closing of Charter Schools. This amendment is not necessary. There are already two paths for starting Charter Schools. This is obvious based on the fact that we do have existing Charter Schools. Yours being one. Fear is not needed in this debate. We need facts. That is what is missing in this Constitutional Amendment that is being proposed. My children went to private school. I am an advocate for school choice.
MP October 20, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Elizabeth - they have to submit to the district where the school is located. And do you REALLY expect for a petitioner to submit to 180 districts for a statewide attendance zone that likely serves on average 10-20 kids from each district? Talk about wasted resources! Who said we wanted to be like Florida? Statewide attendance zones would be, for example, virtual schools. With virtual learning, we can reach our most rural districts where children have NO way out of failing schools. With virtual learning, we can cut the costs of educating these children by over 1/3 and save tax payer dollars. State wide attendance zones are for these purposes. LOL - a FAST TRACK? We have petitioners who have gone to their districts 3 and 4 years in a row. Give me a break, Elizabeth. How about charter school operators just wanting a FAIR track. As for the Supreme Court's ruling...um, I hate to state the obvious, but that is why we are asking the voters to determine if they think the state SHOULD have a shared role. Of course, if it was up to you and others like you, you'd take the vote away from the public (like you tried to do by defeating HR 1162) and just hold tightly to that all important and OH SO EFFECTIVE "local control" by school districts. Geez, what a load of malarkey. I'm glad your district is fairly efficient and does great things in part of the district. Some kids aren't even half as lucky, but again, you could care less about these kids, right Elizabeth?
MP October 20, 2012 at 02:07 AM
As for the money and the "plan" that "no one is talking about" - why don't you enlighten me? Evidently even as a supporter, I'm not "important enough" either. I love how you allude to grassy knolls and other lurking bogey men to make the reader all concerned and then disappear for days without ever bothering to substantiate what you said. So if there really IS a plan - then share it. Educate the voters, Elizabeth.
MP October 20, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Holley, I think you make an excellent point. If you support an appeals process that cannot be challenged, then vote YES on the amendment. The amendment simply ensures that the state CAN absolutely be an appeals body. If your big beef is with the Commission, then go to your legislator and tell them so - and work to get it strengthened.
MP October 20, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Elizabeth - how is it a lie? The preamble is referring to the statement in Charter Schools Act, which is the legislative intent to "raise student achievement" and to State Board rule and guidance that requires parents to have an active part in school level governance. The law about the amendment is very limited - it simply provides for the state's shared accountability in K-12 education and defines "special school" (which the Supreme Court muddled). You are mixing up the Amendment resolution and HB 797. If you hate 797, why not just lobby to get it changed. You keep telling me that "we already have" a state appeals process - if that's true, then why are you afraid to have the voters affirm this?
MP October 20, 2012 at 02:14 AM
@ Elizabeth Hooper - I am STILL awaiting a reply from you on this question....you've ignored me for days and days on this. Is it because you can't answer it and you've realized your argument is nonsensical? The opposition's argument is that state controlled schools (specifically, Commission schools): 1. Cost more money to oversee 2. Are "siphoning money" from the district 3. Erode local control. The commission and state board are both appointed by elected officials, and the the appeals process and funding in place is exactly the same for the Commission and the SBOE process. Since they are EXACTLY the same under 797, why is the current process not being challenged?
MP October 20, 2012 at 02:28 AM
@ R Thomas - Let me explain the fears the charter sector has... If this amendment fails, the next step (that has been published and shared in public forums) is to kill 797. This is VERY problematic because 797 provides for a supplement to state schools to help the to remain sustainable. Without it, the state schools will operate on about $3500 per pupil (compare that to the state average of $8999 per pupil. On so little, the state charters will close - they won't be able to remain open. And without a sustainable revenue stream to educate students, then the state would not be a viable option for appeal and no new charters could open, even if their district was grossly unfair. The second concern is that the state board's authority to even approve schools at all. I've explained this before, but the Supreme Court complicated this in 2 ways: 1) By saying that charters are not "special schools." The charter's status would still not meet the definition. 2) They said that districts have "exclusive" control. This amendment does 1 thing - it affirms that the state DOES have the authority to be an appeals body. That's it. Continued -
MP October 20, 2012 at 02:28 AM
R Thomas - Continued - Do you believe that we should have an appeals court? Does that take away "local control" of the courts? Of course not, and if you ended up on trial unfairly, you'd want an unbiased court that had the authority to free you. Local boards wil leave the opportunity to approve/deny charters in their districts - they get the first bite of the apple. The ONLY reason a charter would be state authorized is if the state was not fair. If they are all fair, then why are the districts so afraid of the state's role being affirmed? Charters are open enrollment, and they serve about 50% economically disadvantaged and minority child, as well as about 8% SPED students. Charter serve EVERYONE, and we welcome anyone who feels charters are the best place for their children. Charters in Georgia are almost always outperforming their districts. You can pull this data from the Report Cards on the DOE website. I support your right as a parent to choose traditional school, home school, or whatever works best for your child. I hope you will support mine and other parents with limited public school choices to choose chartering as well.

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